5. “The Moor” – Opeth
Though this song, like much of Opeth’s early material, can put people off because of its heaviness, there’s no denying how well structured this piece is from their 4th album Still Life. Every musical idea flows, and the growl vocals serve a purpose in conveying the darkness of the lyrics. It’s about someone who had been banished from their community because of their beliefs, and now they return to find the love they left behind, still angry with the community at large. Give it a chance, and you might find it an effective gateway into the world of progressive death metal.
4. “In The Eyes Of The World” – The Flower Kings
Choosing a single song to represent The Flower Kings’ contributions to prog is a difficult task, yet when it comes to album openers, it’s clear that “In the Eyes of the World”, from their 3rd album Stardust We Are, is the most appropriate choice given that it’s the first song to feature the entirety of the classic line up. Beyond this superficial fact, it’s just a musical tour de force, chalk full of picturesque lyrics, a killer hook, and solos galore. The perfect introduction to the band and its brand of neo-symphonic prog.
3. “Leave the Past Behind” – Fates Warning
This song might represent the peak of Fates Warning. It comes from 1991’s Parallels and sees the band at their most melodic. There’s technical prowess to be had throughout, but it takes a back seat to the composition, and it’s this choice to hold back which makes the track such a classic because it doesn’t feel the need to show off and inadvertently get in the way of itself. It’s an approach more bands need to follow.
2. “The Light” – Spock’s Beard
One piano chord. That’s all it takes to catch a listener’s attention. That choice of classical instrumentation is all it takes to differentiate yourself from other prog bands during the ‘90s. Of course, “The Light” is more than just a piano intro and Neal Morse waxing philosophical nonsense. It’s a classic prog tribute that borrows from bands like Yes, Genesis, and ELP without being derivative of them. When it seemed like prog had all but given up on its roots in favor of something heavier, Spock’s Beard brought the symphonic textures back to the fore and forever changed the landscape of prog. They brought the classic style back to life, and importantly, were largely making this music for themselves rather than trying to chase what was popular.
1. “Pull Me Under” – Dream Theater
Could any other song have topped this list? No. Even though we might prefer some of the other songs over this one, it clinches the top spot because of its importance. This was the opening statement to Dream Theater’s seminal Images and Words, an album which redefined what prog could be and cemented prog-metal in particular as a genre with staying power. This song brought prog back to the mainstream (relatively speaking). Without it, we probably wouldn’t have Opeth or Haken or any number of prog metal bands that have wowed us over the course of the past 30 years.